The Venetian Palace
The Venetian palace has always been the object of unreserved admiration ever since the beginning of Venice’s long history, whether it stands on the edge of the Grand Canal which winds through the city, or whether it faces onto a quiet secondary canal or a square.
And however in the past the Venetians have been given to thrift, they were always splendidly liberal in the embellishment of their homes.
Francesco Sansovino, in his book “Venetia città nobilissima” talking about the Venetian palaces, wrote:
“In countless buildings the wooden floors in the bedrooms and in other rooms are decorated with gold and other colors and the rooms are adorned with paintings and excellent illusionist devices. Almost all have the rooms lined with noble tapestries, silken fabrics, gilt stamped leathers, backing panels and others things according to the taste of the period. And the bedrooms are mainly decked with headboards and chests decorated with gold, and with paintings the frames of which are equally loaded with gold. There is no end to the amount of silver cutlery and porcelain dinner services, pewter, copper and bronze worked with azimine. In the main rooms there are racks of arms, with shields and banners of their ancestors who were in regiments on land or at sea. I have been an auction of the goods and chattels of a nobleman condemned for a sinister incident and they would have still been excessive for any Duke of Italy”.
The distribution of the space inside the Venetian palace underwent no substantial changes in the course of the centuries, and the tripartite layout of the main façade clearly illustrates its arrangement. The ground floor had a vast central room, or entrance hall that traversed the building, flanked on either side by rooms intended for the storage of merchandise ever since the time when the palace was used as a home-cum-warehouse for a society concerned mainly with trading. From the great entrance hall, at the ends of which there were two main palace doors – one from the street and one from the water’s edge – there was also the staircase for access to the first and second floors, which were the actual residential areas of the stately home. These upper floors were based on the same structure as the ground floor, i.e. with a vast central hall, called the portego, which received light from the great mullioned windows at each end and which gave access to the others rooms in the palace ranged along each side. It was on the upper floors that the owners dedicated particular attention to both the decorations and the furnishings, as these reflected the social standing, power and prestige of the palace’s inhabitants. Naturally, in the course of the centuries, various kinds of renovations changed both the outside and the inside of the palaces and, as regards the interiors in particular, what survives today mainly reflects the most recent restorations, i-e- those of the 18th century – the last year oh the Venetian Republic.
This was when the beamed ceilings of the 16th and 17th centuries recalled by Sansovino were placed by the frescoes of painted ceilings created by the most famous of Venetians artists. These were often contained in elaborated flames of stucco work, done by the teams of stucco workers from the Ticino area who were much in demand and highly active in the city of Venice from the end of the 17th and throughout the 18th century. A further reason for admiration that only the Venetian palaces can offer lay, according to Sansovino, in the windows which “…are closed not with sheets of waxed fabric or paper, but with fine white glass, enclosed in wooden frames and held with iron and with lead, not only in the palaces and large buildings but everywhere, however base the house might be, to the great astonishment of strangers to the city: as this fact in itself is proof enough of the infinite wealth that comes out of the glass kilns of Murano”. The fall of the Republic, with the consequent political upheaval and the collapse of the nobility, led to the scattering of the great wealth that had been preserved for centuries in the Venetian palaces, which were systematically plundered of what successive generations had brought together. But the treasures that were contained within their walls were so vast that not everything could be removed; thus what little has remained until the present day fortunately still bears ample witness to the magnificence and the glorious past of the city of Venice.